So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. (NLT)
People change ever so slowly. Dramatic changes of directions do happen but mostly we change over time. And our progress to maturity is not some smooth, ever increasing grasp of our faith. It is usually more like a series of ups and downs, a few steps forward and a couple of steps back.
This means that any of us concerned for the growth in Christ of those we love need to be in it for the long haul. One prayer, one altar call, one inspiring talk, one stimulating conference, does not usually do the job. Those who do pastoral ministry for a living are particularly aware of just how hard it can be. We witness growth and then sudden setback. Or we struggle to see any growth at all.
Paul knew this. When he talks of struggling hard in our text, he uses the word from which we get our English word “agony”. Helping others grow in Jesus is agonising work even though it is also rewarding. We get excited about episodes of new growth and insight and dispirited by evidence of backsliding and disobedience.
Fruit ripens slowly. We grow slowly and hesitantly. My own growth on a graph does not resemble some even journey upwards. It is more like the graph of contemporary share markets! A crazy mixture of retreats and advances.
What makes it all worthwhile and even possible is Paul’s reminder that the agonising work involved is empowered by the mighty power of God. It is ultimately his work after all.